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Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, Me, and the Bomb

On October 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Brazilian Minister Celso Amorim while Powell was visiting Brazil. When I was assigned to the US Embassy in Brasilia as science officer during the 1980s, Celso Amorim was serving as the Foreign Ministry representative in the Ministry of Science and Technology. According to his bio, he held this job from 1985-88.

The US wanted to have a big meeting in Brazil to discuss scientific and technological cooperation, with the US side led by President Bush I’s science adviser, Allan Bromley of Yale. Celso Amorim was not a big fan of the US, was not enthusiastic about the meeting, and stonewalled for a long time. Eventually we held the meeting, but there was not much agreement on joint projects. There was a lot of hand waving and agreements to agree later on specific projects.

During Powell’s visit, there was discussion of Brazil’s cooperation with IAEA inspectors who are scheduled to come to Brazil. There has been a question whether they would be allowed to inspect Brazil’s plant for making uranium fuel for its nuclear power reactors. Brazil bought a huge nuclear fuel cycle plant from Germany before I was there in the 1980s. Then there was concern that Brazil would use it to highly enrich uranium to a level useful for bombs. That uranium enrichment process was very inefficient and cumbersome. Recently there have been rumors that Brazil purchased a more efficient centrifuge enrichment system from A.Q. Khan and Pakistanis, and for that reason would restrict the IAEA inspection.

When asked about the nuclear issue, Powell said, “I don’t think Brazil could be talked about in the same vein or put in the same category as Iran or North Korea…. In the case of Iran, Iran has been not forthcoming with respect to what it has been doing and we have seen the IAEA prying information out of Iran and our judgment is that Iran’s program is not just for power, but is also designed to move in the direction of a nuclear weapon. In the case of Brazil, this is simply not the case.”

Following Secretary Powell’s remarks, Celso Amorim said, “I won’t go into the technical details, because I have no expertise to do that. But, it’s a simple matter. Brazil has nothing to hide in terms of its uranium enrichment process except for the technology that Brazil has acquired, and which Brazil naturally wishes to protect. It’s perfectly possible, and this has been discussed very productively in Vienna. I, myself, was on the telephone with the director of the Atomic Energy Agency, Mr. El Baradei, who was very pleased with the contacts that he had made with our technical people. And, therefore, I believe it is perfectly possible to conciliate the objectives of the Atomic Energy Agency, to give them the certainty that the entire enrichment process is only for peaceful purposes, that there is no deviation of uranium, while at the same time protecting the Brazilian technology.

“Specifically how that’s to be done has to be discussed between the Agency’s technical people and the Brazilian authorities in the sector, specifically at the Resende plant that will be visited. It is in our interest to solve this problem, because we want to put the Resende plant into operation, as we have economic needs. Brazil is such a huge country, we cannot do without any source of energy. Brazil has major uranium reserves, and it’s only natural that we do not want to have to send our uranium abroad to be enriched, to then have to have to come back to Brazil. That just doesn’t make sense….

“Now, in terms of the Additional Protocol, I’ll repeat one thing that I’ve said many times: Brazil has never said that it would not sign, but there is a process of negotiation here I think that we will soon come to an agreement on the Resende plant. And that will help consolidate the subject for the future. But, I want to reiterate, as I said to Secretary Powell, that when Brazil adhered to the Nonproliferation Treaty we actually accepted the package deal. There are three basic elements there: nonproliferation, as such; the possibility of peaceful use of nuclear power with no restrictions, unless there is some specific suspicion on the country but now Secretary Powell has said that there is none; and, third, concrete steps towards disarmament. Within that spirit we will continue to work on these matters. And, I’m certain that as in all the other situations, Brazil has always shown its desire to cooperate with the global goals of nonproliferation and of disarmament, and will continue to work in that direction.”

The Additional Protocol which Amorim mentioned gives the IAEA stronger authority for inspections than originally granted under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Brazil did not join the NPT for years because it said that the NPT was discriminatory, giving more rights to nuclear powers like the US than to non-nuclear countries. When it finally joined, it did not agree to the additional protocol, and now will probably argue that the international community is trying to change the terms of the agreement after it has been signed. This happened to Brazil when it bought its first nuclear power reactor from Westinghouse in the US in the 1970s. After the billion dollar deal was signed, Congress passed a law saying that the US could not supply fuel for the reactor unless Brazil agreed to “full scope safeguards” (more intrusive than those Brazil had already agreed to) under the NPT. Brazil did not agree then and turned to Germany for future reactors and nuclear technology. Brazil bristled when the US refused to supply the fuel that it had agreed to supply, which was especially harmful coming on the heels of the OPEC embargo that had cut off Brazil’s petroleum supply.

Part of my job in Brazil during the 1980s was to get Brazil to be more forthcoming on the nuclear safeguards issue. I was not very successful until the President of Argentina invited the President of Brazil to visit Bariloche, known to be the location of the primary Argentine nuclear research center. Removing an element of Argentine-Brazilian nuclear competition helped both countries move toward more responsible nuclear programs. But Brazil has always been nationalistic. It still did not join the NPT until years later. If the world allows India and Pakistan (not to mention Israel, North Korea, and perhaps some other countries) to join the nuclear club, then Brazil may well insist that it also has the right to join. I don’t think there is any indication that Brazil would want nuclear weapons to threaten anybody, but it would not easily consign itself to second-class status in the world by giving up the nuclear option, if nuclear weapons are seen as a sign of great power status.

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